12 Small Things ChicagoI spent three busy days in Chicago last month where I flew to attend the Housewares show for my work with Keena, and visit my friend Deborah Boardman's family, and memorial art exhibit that her friends curated after her death in November. Catharine Keena was in Spain for her husband's 60th birthday celebration, so her partner, Adriana Mello and I walked the vast expanses of the McCormick Place together, visiting our vendor's booths and meeting customers from Cost Plus World Market and Williams-Sonoma, who also attend the show. 


We had a good time meeting with the sales teams at Kikkerland, Wild & Wolf, Kinto, Umbra, Black & Blum and Corkcicle, where an artist in residence was painting a huge mural of a young woman, brightly colored to go with Corkcicle's colorful canteens. As the day wore on and our energy wound down, Adriana and I decided we needed some fresh air and hopped in a cab to the Field Museum just around the corner.

I'd been to the Field Museum once before after a long day at the McCormick, but arrived too late for admission and instead spent my time looking at their amazing gift shop, with an extensive collection of fair trade, handmade products from around the world. I had met the museum shop's buyer, Jeri Webb, years ago when I traveled to the gift show in Lima, Peru, for my website 12 Small Things

This time, I hoped to be able to get into the museum to see some of their extensive natural history exhibits, even though it was almost 3:45 and the museum stopped admitting guests at 4:00. Adriana and I waited in a long line outside, not realizing that it was also a school holiday and everyone in Chicago and their family also had the same idea. We barely managed to slip in after trying to use a ticket machine that didn't work.


Thankfully, the dinosaurs waited for us, and as we learned of their existence so many millions of years ago it made me, in my modern day pursuits, feel irrelevant. I could appreciate the skeletons of flying reptiles that we now know as birds, and marveled at the fact that their descendants, the rhinoceros and hippopotamus and elephants are still roaming this earth, but for how long?

Adriana was even more excited than I was, and I kept asking if she wasn't a scientist before getting into sales, but she reminded me she had studied to be a lawyer. The museum loudspeakers encouraged us to wrap up our visit, but not without another trip to the museum shop. I was so disappointed to find it had drastically changed, and was mostly selling dinosaur t-shirts and stuffed animals. Adriana bought her children some books, while I spoke with a salesperson, asking if Jeri was by any chance still there? Apparently Jeri left years ago when the store was taken over by Aramark. I had to do a bit of research to identify the group, but clearly the curated collection of unique goods had been replaced by a corporation.


The next day Adriana and I returned to McCormick Place to finish our meetings and strangely enough in the afternoon, we needed to get a breath of fresh air again. This time we cabbed it over to the Shedd Aquarium, built in 1930 by the same Beaux-Arts architects who designed the Field Museum. The detail in the architecture was charming, complete with seahorses, starfish and everything else aquatic that I spotted while waiting in another long line for admission. The line was so long that Adriana and I checked out the gift shop sooner than later, and found it lead right into the aquarium.

We saw all sorts of fish and aquatic life from the Caribbean coral reef to the Amazon jungles, and learned the history of Illinois rivers and lakes as well. We grabbed a quick bite in the food court that seemed very institutional, but had great views of Lake Michigan. On our way out we caught a wonderful exhibit of real live baby Beluga whales, swimming somewhat freely in their landscaped pool; the next iteration of Sea World? 

Heading back to Adriana's hotel, we stopped to check out the new Restoration Hardware showroom with seven floors of monochromatic, oversized furniture plus a courtyard restaurant complete with fountains. I left my traveling companion to get a good night's rest, and hopped a cab to the other side of Chicago, where I met Deb's husband Joe and their sons and girlfriends, for a cup of tea and laughter before calling it a day.  


I had a chance to see Deborah's art show at the Heaven Gallery when I first arrived, and met her artist friend Diane Christiansen, who gave me a tour of the exhibit. Deb had planned this show with her friends during the last few months before she died. It pairs pieces of her work, with other work by artists who were influenced by her, and she by them. My favorite piece was Deb's oversized book of illuminated manuscripts, with her reflections on life and dreams, depicted in gorgeous paintings that reached out to the page's borders and beyond.

I spent my last day visiting one of Deb's good friends Jackie Kazarian, who made me a heavenly lunch that we ate in the afternoon sunshine with a glass of wine and remembered Deb. Jackie told me about an important piece of work she had just completed in remembrance of the Armenian genocide, that was being installed at the Richard Daley Center this month. I felt so grateful to have spent a little time with Jackie, and understood why she was one of Deb's best friends.

The night before I left, Deb's husband took me to a Bull's game at the United Center. We had great seats and a fun evening, but the game itself seemed so calm compared to the fast paced Golden State Warriors games I'm used to watching back home. As I admired all the championship pennants hanging in the stadium, I thought of the Bull's in their hey day with Michael Jordon 20 years ago. A lot can change in 20 years and a million years, or in just six months. Good to see you Chicago, but time to go home to hug my family, cheer for my sports teams and appreciate this moment in time while I can.